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The Bebop Approach

Jazzed Magazine • January 2007Master Class • January 24, 2007

The simplification and organization of the creative process behind bebop wholly depends on an understanding of its chromatic language. Charlie Parker is widely credited with the development of this chromatic language; his predecessors had mostly utilized diatonic structures and Parker’s innovative sound went on to inspire countless saxophonists.

Just as is the case with any melody, bebop phrases have a skeleton. Bebop patterns could be thought of as embellishments to the bare melodic structure. Below you will find exercises for developing the bebop improvisational approach. Keep in mind that, in jazz, the scale degrees are referred to as numbers rather than letters.

Focus Sessions

Pre Bebop Exercise
Diatonic Exercise
As a preliminary exercise to chromatic approach tones, students should practice approaching the target tone a whole step above and below. When the target tone is approached by a whole step above, it forms a 9th; if approached from below, it forms a flat 7 in the chord.

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Extra tones: Dominant 7th (natural 7), Major (#5), Minor (natural 3) and Half-dim (natural 5). The student should be sure to begin the scale on the odd numbers. If the scale is begun on the even beats (2, 4 or 6), the student will have to insert a half-step to prevent these added tones from falling on downbeats.

Chromatic Approach Tones
Below are examples of approaching the target note C (tonic or 1). The approach tones are proceeded with a half step (above or below), but at times, could be approached by a whole step. It is this chromatic sound that defines the bebop style. It is also important to keep in mind that these exercises are strictly for developing the bebop sound. The student should further practice these bebop examples to extend these patterns with combinations of other chord tones and scales.

Single Note Approach

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Note: The above and below examples note #1 (C#) as b9 (Db). Note that the #1 (C#) is the enharmonic or the same tone to b9 (Db). b9 is preferred because of its frequent use as an extension.

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Double Note Approach

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Combination of Single and Double Note Approach

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Focus SessionsThe Cycle of Fourths
Once the student has a grasp of these chromatic embellishments, the next step is to practice taking the patterns around the cycle of fourths. Start on C moving towards F, and then continuing in a clock-ward progression to the following keys. Once C is reached, take another pattern, and so on. The cycle of fourth structure also prepares students for the harmonic movement of the common jazz progression: ii V I . Example, key of C: d- G7 C (ii V I).

The student should further utilize the cycle of fourths to practice all patterns, chromatic or transcribed. The student should then apply the cycle of fourths to practice all the chromatic approach combinations discussed in examples 4-7 for application to the four note permutation groups (example 9), and the four note permutations without chromatic approaches.

Focus SessionsIn the example below, a half step above and below is approached to the tonic or first degree of the chord, and then continues up the chord to the seventh.

Practicing Seventh chords with Four Note Permutations (1357)
example 9:

1357 3571 5713 7135





















Note: the 3rd, 5th or 7th can be altered to the quality of the chord. Examples of chord qualities: dominant 7 (b7), minor 7th (b3, b7), half-diminished (b3, b5, b7) and other altered chords.

How Approach Tones Build Automatic Extensions
The chromaticism of bebop forms automatic extensions to the harmony. Below are examples of the resulting extension and how approach tones relate to the tonic C.

Key of C: Approach Tone Tonic scale degree extension
D C 2 9
Db (half step below) approach 1 C b2 b9
D# (half step below) approach 3 C #2 #9
F (half step above) approach 5 C 4 11
F# (half step below) approach 5 C #4 #11
Ab (half step above) approach 5 C b6 b13
A (half step below) approach b7 6 13

Note: Scale degrees 2 (9), 4 (11), 6 (13) are referred to as extensions. This simplification makes it easier to utilize and remember extensions.

Charlie Parker’s Tonal Organization
Charlie Parker mostly approached beats one and three with the third or the seventh degrees of the chords. The extensions that Parker often added to beats one and three were the flat 9 and natural 9. Parker utilized other less frequent extensions, which differed from one solo to another.

The genius of Charlie Parker proves that a soloist could organize their creativity into simplified melodic statements within this complicated chromatic language. Thus, thematic development is key when soloing in the bebop style. For example, Charlie Parker began his solos with a simple melodic statement, which he further developed as the solo progressed. In addition, the chromaticism of bebop assists in developing interesting solos by the leading tones created and the automatic extensions formed.

Time to Solo
The development of a jazz vocabulary depends highly on practicing patterns in all keys. Jazz musicians utilize the cycle of fourths to work on their patterns, favorite melodic motifs and phrases that they may have transcribed from jazz recordings. Jazz harmonic progressions mostly move by half steps and fourths; thus, making the cycle of fourths a practical tool for practicing harmonic progressions.

When it is time to work on solo development, the student should try to plug patterns practiced into the chord changes. Their solo should begin with a pattern or an idea that is modified and developed throughout the solo.

The goal of a performance is to solo by reacting to the spur of the moment. It is the energy of an audience that can inspire interesting combinations of practice room material or create new ideas.

The resulting chromaticism of bebop adds color to chords taking solo development at a higher harmonic level.By practicing the suggested patterns utilizing the 1-3-5-7 permutations and the cycle of fourths, the development of the bebop style will be simplified and more accessible to students.

Dr. Styliani Tartsinis hold a DMA from Rutgers University; MM in Multiple woodwinds from Florida State University; BM from University of Southern Mississippi; and has studied at Manhattan School of Music and New England Conservatory. Tartsinis’ recordings include composer Lior Navok’s CD Hidden Reflections as well as her own CDs, J.S. Bach: The Suites, volume 1, 12 Fantasias, Melodies from the Canyons, Baroque Dedications, Dizzy Fingers, Remembering Sigurd Rascher and Americas. Dr. Tartsinis is the Instrumental Music director at Eastern Christian Middle / High School (North Haledon, N.J.), and clarinet / saxophone instructor at the Conservatory of Westchester.

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